Discover more from Fiction Attic Press
The View from the 6 Train
debut flash fiction by Oscar Phelan
She liked the 8 train best, I liked the 9, but that day we took the 6. We had to get to Raspail to attend a funeral at Montparnasse Cemetery. Saoirse said I needed to go for emotional support, even though she barely knew the girl. I think about it often—the two of us on a rainy November day, Paris at its bleakest.
The first thing you should know about Saoirse is that she used to carry this giant orange bag, a cross between a purse and a backpack. It was a gift from the dead girl, Lena. I never knew what she had in it. She didn’t wear makeup so I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any lipstick or anything like that. She never had money, so a wallet seemed unlikely. It had a zipper at the top and she would only open it a couple of inches and peer in, so I never got a look. I know it was heavy because she carried the bag on her left shoulder, and she always tilted left. I liked that about Saoirse. I could always spot her from a long way off, a tilting orange figure in the rain.
Maybe I talk about the bag because once someone is out of your life it hurts to talk about them, so you talk around them instead. If she ever mentions me now, she might talk about this shirt I used to wear, a dark green New York Jets jersey, or my favorite cereal, Cocoa Krispies.
Anyway, if you’ve spent any time in Paris, maybe you know the 6 crosses the river. There are a lot of things about Paris that sound great but aren’t. For example, jambon et fromage is good, but after your thousandth sandwich of deli ham and a slice of sweaty Emmental on a baguette, it gets old. But the 6 train really is great. It’s an older train so it’s clunky and the seats are uncomfortable. But for just a minute, between Passy and Bir-Hakeim, you’re suspended over the Seine. The Seine is dirty, and if you stand on any of the Paris bridges long enough you’ll see garbage floating by. But the Seine is also pretty great-looking when the sunlight glitters on it, or when you catch a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. But this isn’t an ode to the Seine. This is just a story about that day, the day everything went south on the 6.
We’d boarded at Boissiere. We sat in facing seats so we both had a window view, but she was traveling forward and I was traveling backward. We were looking out the window, waiting for the Eiffel Tower to appear, when the train slowed to a halt. No matter how slowly the train stopped, someone would always fall over and it always made me laugh a little. This time it was a lady with a giant umbrella. We waited for the train to start back up, but it didn’t. I looked at my phone, no reception. Another thing about Paris: your phone always has reception, except when you need it.
“Ça ne marche pas,” Saoirse said. It was confusing, this girl from Dublin always speaking French to me even though she knew I could barely understand.
It was four in the afternoon. I counted three other people in the car: a man with long sideburns, a girl in a red hat reading a book, the woman with the giant umbrella. They looked irritated but not irate. After all, the metro breaking down in Paris was an all too common occurrence.
“We can’t be late,” Saoirse said, nervously bouncing her knee up and down.
“I thought you didn’t want to go.”
“Just because I don’t want to go doesn’t mean I want to be late. I’d rather just not go than be late. If I didn’t show up then no one would realize I wasn’t there, but If I showed up late then everyone would notice and it would be even worse than not showing up in the first place.”
Saoirse had a tendency to overthink things. Then again, she might say I had a tendency to underthink things.
Fifteen minutes passed, an hour, another hour. I lost track of time. The Eiffel tower lit up, and Saoirse reached over and held my hand for a minute. She was romantic that way. My stomach grumbled. I nudged her, pointing to her orange bag. “Do you have anything to eat in there?” l hoped she would open it and pull out a baguette, even one with deli ham, but she didn’t.
“How can you be hungry at time like this?”
I looked around. The man with the sideburns was snoring, the girl with the red hat was still reading, and the lady with the giant umbrella was staring out the window. At some point Saoirse nodded off to sleep and started mumbling about pianos. I don’t know why, she doesn’t play the piano. Still, I could listen to her talk in her sleep forever. At some point I nodded off too, and then I woke up thirsty, my ass numb from the seat. Saoirse was poking at my knee.
“Wake up, wake up.”
For a minute I couldn’t remember where I was, but then I saw the moon over the river and the green tip of Bir Hakeim. “What?”
“Don’t look now, but Lena is on the train.”
“Lena? Like Lena the dead girl?”
“Yes!” she whisper-shouted.
“You know that’s impossible, right? When was the last time you had something to eat?”
“I’m telling you, it’s her.”
“You hardly knew her. You’ve probably forgotten what she looks like.”
“I’m one hundred percent certain it’s Lena.” She slyly pointed her finger. “Je suis sur!” I turned to look. The girl was tall, maybe six feet, she had silver hula hoop earrings and long brunette hair. I looked back at Saoirse. She was transfixed. “Saoirse.” She wasn’t paying attention to me. “Saoirse!”
“It’s her, I know it’s her.”
I thought she was losing it. “You’re acting insane.”
“Don’t call me insane! There were three other people on the train. Now there are four. How do you explain that?”
She was right. I searched my mind for a logical explanation. “Maybe we just didn’t see her before.”
She turned her gaze from the girl in hoop earrings, looking straight at me. There was an intensity in her green eyes I’d never seen before. Of course, the fact that I’d never seen it didn’t mean it hadn’t been there. Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention.
“Just because you’ve never experienced something doesn’t mean it can’t be real,” she said. “Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it impossible.”
Of course, looking back, I know why things ended that day. She was a dreamer, I was not. She could see the infinite possibilities of the world, and I could only see what was in front of me. What I saw right then was Saoirse, standing up, lifting the orange bag over her shoulder.
Just then the lights came on. “Prochain arret: Bir Hakeim,” the conductor said.
The train began to move, and Saoirse stumbled. I didn’t laugh. I saw her walking away, tilted and determined.
“Saoirse,” I said. But it was too late, she was already gone.
Oscar Phelan is a high school senior in Northern California and a former editorial intern at Fiction Attic Press. He writes about movies at .